Adorno and the culture industry


The Critical theory of the 70s has sought to rethink the Aufklärung (Enlightenment) of the 18th century. Two major writers, Adorno and Horkheimer, violently criticized the culture industry and the rationalism of the Enlightenment, seen as an instrument of domination.

The Adorno and Horkheimer’s project is to:

Understand why humanity, instead of engaging in very human terms, sink in a new form of barbarism” (quote from the Critique of Dialectical Reason)

Adorno, The Critical Theory and media

The charge against the media is heavy indeed: they accuse them of making public a “passive toy “, reduced to nod, to absorb all the material presented to it. The media would turn citizens into consumers dumbed down, objectified, dehumanized. The spectator is a kind of generic man, as was the alienated worker in Marx’s philosophy, whose united is provided in the fact that he has lost all function, and even any critical capacity. His conscience becomes the era of mass media machine that perform “standard operations.”


The schematic of the understanding would have disappeared: the mediations between categories and phenomena are no longer the purview of the subject, but the “conscience of the production teams” that map to consumers at their place, executives enabling them to grasp reality. Even me in the heart of identity, which is built first within the sphere of intimacy, is plagued by the world media would be more than “a patented product determined by the company,” he line to be what the culture industry imposes. The individual is integrated power system, it becomes a link, a piece of a huge machine that does not control, it is more than a “device”.

For these two thinkers, the media is the downfall of modern man, the defeat of the thinking subject. The media seem, in their view, completing the movement of “self-destruction of reason” has its source in the Enlightenment. Against Kant, they feel that this is not the subject that has become a major, but the dominance that has become adult. And this defeat of thought is even greater than it seems, if we follow their diagnosis, with no chance of remission because “fatal attachment of the people for the evil that makes him even goes to Tip of the authorities. ”

The media as an instrument of domination: the reference to Marx

The second pivot of their criticism of the media lies in the concept of ideology that they attribute to them. In addition to make the individuals homogeneous, they convey the ideology of the “status quo”. The media triumph entertainment. Yet it produced a consensus that would seek to legitimize the company, as opposed to conflict and dissension which would call into question. The example of the news item that invades all media types, is a “cheer the existing order” which, in addition fatalisants (it shows citizens that “there are still more disadvantaged than themselves, that their condition, even bad, is a lesser evil) prohibit people want a change in their lives. The daily celebration of emptiness, the anodyne serves to mask any prospect of change and to stifle criticism.

In the end the media, become the yardstick of public thought, are, from the perspective of Adorno and Horkheimer, regarded as anti-democratic because they prevent the subjects, through networks of manipulation and coercion, to think for themselves and produce independent opinions.

The company led by the founders of the Frankfurt School is really based on understanding and reporting of abuses of modernity, but not on the construction of a fruitful theory that seeks to redress this’ barbarism “which is instrumental reason. They definitely condemn modernity as a whole, it does nothing productive to think about modern democracy and public space, since individuals are dehumanized and alienated by the media system.

Kant anticipated intuitively that Hollywood was the first to consciously realize: in the process of production, the images are précensurées accordance with the understanding that later will decide how they should look

Their criticism is quite current.


Cite this article as: Tim, "Adorno and the culture industry, April 25, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, April 25, 2012,

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